Millions of people have had some experience with drugs. Drug abuse, while some think that it seems like harmless fun, can be the precursor to addiction. Certain sets of genes put some people at greater risk of developing addictive behavior. While it’s true that not all drug use leads to something as serious as addiction, it’s important to understand the signs, symptoms and effects of drug abuse to prevent it. 

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Common Drug Abuse Symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of drug abuse in yourself or others is an important first step in preventing or treating addiction. Although some indicators of substance use are unique to the individual, there are common signs to look for. 

A man talking about his drug abuse symptoms during a group therapy

Psychological Signs

Substance abuse takes its toll on mental health over time. For example, MDMA may start as a fun party drug but when abused will cause depletion of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Drug addiction may begin as a way to feel normal again after the initial high is over. Some psychological signs of drug use are:

  • Sudden mood swings: Changes in mood that sometimes result in unwanted behavior 
  • Paranoia: Unwarranted suspicion or mistrust that may garner feelings of hostility
  • Anxiety: Feelings of excessive worry or nervousness without an identifiable cause
  • Depression: Relentless sadness, despondency and dejection, seemingly without origin 
  • Hallucinations: Appearance or perception of something that isn’t present 
  • Confusion: Feelings of bewilderment about tasks or ideas that were once understood 

Behavioral Signs

Sudden, seemingly unexplainable changes in behavior may also point to drug abuse. Many people can limit recreational drugs to social gatherings at first. Unfortunately, sometimes drug use will bleed over into their daily life without them recognizing it. People struggling with addiction may see a negative impact at work, school and home. Some behavioral patterns that may indicate drug abuse are: 

drug abuse symptoms - a problematic man holding his forehead
  • Neglect: Not taking care of essential tasks at work or school; lack of hygiene and self-care may also be evident
  • Financial issues: Sudden accumulation of credit card debt, unpaid bills and fiscal irresponsibility 
  • Risky behavior: Taking part in unhealthy risk-taking behavior such as binging, unprotected sex and driving under the influence
  • Secretive behavior: Being very guarded or deflective about thoughts, plans and actions 
  • Poor attendance: Not showing up to planned activities or making frequent excuses for absenteeism at work or school

Physical Signs

Changes in physical appearance may be the most obvious way to identify drug use but don’t always manifest themselves immediately. A person using marijuana for the first time may have bloodshot eyes, while someone misusing a prescription drug for years might have no physical symptoms. Physical signs that are commonly witnessed in those suffering from drug abuse or addiction are: 

  • Sudden weight loss: Looking gaunt, sickly, pale and dropping weight without explanation 
  • Lethargy: Constantly feeling exhausted and lacking enthusiasm are common symptoms; being in a perpetual fog
  • Unusual sleep patterns: Sleeping during the day or sleeping in very late
  • Poor coordination: Having difficulty standing or holding onto things
  • Changes in appetite: Sudden and extreme changes in diet; binge eating or abstaining from food altogether

The Effects of Drug Abuse

Drug abuse is normally started as a form of escapism from the harsh realities of the world. While it may initially seem harmless, the damages drug addiction can cause in the short- and long term may not be. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug or alcohol addiction can be detrimental in the following ways: 

Short-Term Effects

  • High blood pressure: Drug dependence can cause temporary or chronic hypertension.  
  • Heart attack: Club drugs, like speed or cocaine, can cause abnormal heart rates that lead to a heart attack. 
  • Stroke: Vascular damage caused by drug use may cause blood clots and stroke. 
  • Psychosis: Some drugs may cause temporary brain damage that leads to mental disorders. 
  • Overdose: Everyone has different tolerances, and too much of any drug can lead to an overdose. 

Long-Term Effects

  • Mental Illness: Substance use disorder and mental illness are correlated, especially in children. Studies show that adolescents who abuse drugs are more likely to develop a mental health disorder in adulthood. 
  • HIV/AIDS: Sharing needles or having unprotected sex during drug use can lead to transmission. 
  • Hepatitis: Liver damage caused by prescription drug abuse can cause toxic hepatitis. 
  • Cancer: Abusing certain drugs, like anabolic steroids, has been directly correlated with cancer. 
  • Incarceration: A substantial amount of crime is correlated with drug abuse and addiction. 

Drug abuse rarely leads to a good outcome, which is why both drug abuse and addiction are listed in the diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders (DSM).

Group of individuals consoling a man during a group therapy for addiction

FAQ on Drug Abuse

If you feel someone is showing the signs or symptoms described in this article, it may be time to take action. Addiction is rooted in repeated behaviors and becomes more entrenched over time. If you’re concerned, you can speak to one of Changing Tide’s licensed professionals at 844-254-9664 for advice.

While you may be able to accomplish daily tasks without error, it doesn’t mean you’re living a healthy lifestyle. Drug and alcohol addiction can lead to negative impacts on your health and well-being over time. Try to imagine how fulfilling your life could be without having to rely upon drugs.  

Like any lifestyle change, recovering from addiction is a long process that will incur setbacks. Relapsing doesn’t mean you’ve failed — you can always choose to get back on track. 

Though forcing anyone to do anything may seem wrong, drug addiction can significantly interfere with someone’s best judgment. Laws in some states can make a person go to rehab, but it’s best to contact your local treatment center for specific advice. 

Addiction Treatment Options

Changing Tides is an addiction treatment center that focuses on therapeutic methods to end drug dependency. We offer services such as individual therapy, support groups, therapy for family members and educational therapy. Our inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities help patients develop practical coping mechanisms for real-world application.

If you or someone you care about may be abusing drugs, call us at 844-254-9664 for expert advice. Our drug rehab in NC is here to help you successfully overcome substance abuse and change your life.